Skillman Foundation announces new strategic vision for preparing Detroit children for college, career and life

DETROIT – After an intense, six-month strategic planning process, the Foundation has a new framework to share for how it will continue and strengthen its work to improve outcomes for Detroit’s children.

It builds on the Foundation’s founding mission and years of work in Detroit, especially the last seven years of collaboration with Detroit neighborhoods and schools, and the process involved input from many stakeholders across the Foundation’s grantee portfolio and throughout the community.

The plan centers on a refocused goal: to make sure all the Foundations’ work moves the needle on meaningful high school graduation rates in Detroit, so that kids are prepared for college, career and life.

To that end, the Foundation is adding two new lines of funding and intensifying its work in four areas that are ready for heightened investment.

The four platforms that the Foundation will expand are: community leadership, which includes the Foundation’s successful small-grants program; high-quality youth development, with a focus on successful outcomes, in investments to high-quality schools; highlighted by our work through a network of high-performing schools; and our work in Detroit neighborhoods, where the Foundation will execute all of its strategies in a new, results-oriented approach.

“We’ve analyzed the impact we’ve had in these areas and know it is time to double-down and refine our strategies in them,” chief operating officer and incoming president Tonya Allen said. “We believe by building on our Good Neighborhoods’ commitment and by investing in more and smarter ways in these areas of our work, we can achieve our goal of seeing more Detroit children experience graduation from high school ready for what comes next. These areas are crucial for preparing children to compete and succeed.”

The Foundation is also adding two new lines of work. After years of feedback from Detroit residents who place safety on the top of their priority list, the Foundation is now freeing up a dedicated line of funding for safety initiatives.

“Our work in neighborhoods and schools over the past seven years has taught us that our efforts don’t matter nearly as much if children do not feel safe in the places where they live and learn,” Allen said. “We know that, and so we’re committing to working with the community to find ways to build on safety initiatives on the ground now and to bring new policing ideas and methods that don’t criminalize youth to our communities and schools.”

Additionally, to better attract outside funds to Detroit, the Foundation is introducing a line of social innovation work, which introduces market-based philosophies to philanthropic work and includes things such as program-related investments, or PRIs, mission-related investments, or MRIs, and social venture funds.

“Despite our success over the last seven years of attracting nearly a half billion dollars in our target work, we will now be even more deliberate and aggressive in attracting other resources to Detroit,” Allen said.  “The $17 million in our yearly grants budget is not enough to achieve the change that children in Detroit deserve and that we’re committed to seeing happen. We’re actively exploring avenues that bring more investors and partners to the table in innovative ways.”

In March, The Skillman Foundation Board of Trustees enthusiastically gave its blessing to the new strategic framework. Board chair Lizabeth Ardisana says: “We are excited about the next generation of the Foundation’s work. Our plan builds on Carol Goss’s legacy at the Foundation and capitalizes on Tonya’s determination to utilize new strategies to see that legacy fulfilled.”

To meet the new vision, the organization has realigned its staffing structure, including 11 internal promotions, to better fit its personnel with the new Foundation vision. For further details, visit or click here for a press release on our staffing changes

Created in 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy committed to helping children in the Detroit region become better prepared for college, career and life. The Foundation currently has assets of about $430 million, with an annual grants budget of about $17 million. The Foundation works to achieve its goal by investing in community leadership, neighborhoods, safety initiatives, high-quality schools, social innovation and youth development.